Planning & Tips

The best day hikes from El Chaltén

El Chaltén is a small mountain town in Los Glaciares National Park, the hiking hub of Argentinian Patagonia. It’s a place replete with mountaineering history and carries a slightly funky and hippy-ish vibe that’s a lot of fun to explore. 

Los Glaciares is the Argentinian mirror to Torres del Paine in Chile, with all the epic granite mountains and glaciers you need to get a true taste of Patagonia. However, they are experientially unique. Torres del Paine is spectacularly remote and immersive; getting to each trailhead requires a transfer, and the nearest town – Puerto Natales – is an hour and a half drive from the nearest park entrance. In contrast, El Chaltén’s location right at the base of the mountains inside Los Glaciares National Park means that you can walk out of your front door and hike many of its most iconic trails right from town. 

This convenience makes El Chaltén a dream destination for especially independent travellers, those prioritizing a more flexible itinerary, or people looking for ways to make their money go a little further than an all-inclusive stay in Torres del Paine. On my most recent trip to El Chaltén, I laced up my hiking boots to explore the best day hikes this area has to offer and see how they can be combined into one epic trip.

Laguna de Los Tres

If you’re only going to one hike from El Chaltén, this one to the lookout to Mount Fitz Roy is the one to do. Local guides dub it ‘the hike to the logo’, as the profile of Fitz Roy is the model for the logo of the Patagonia outdoor clothing company. 

Hiking towards Laguna de Los Tres

This hike can be done as a straightforward out and back from town, but I’d always recommend getting a transfer to start at a further trailhead about 20km outside El Chaltén. Not only does this make your incline slightly more moderate, it also gives you a considerably more dynamic and scenic experience exploring the park’s landscape (with fewer crowds!). 

And that landscape truly is spectacular. The first amazing view is Piedras Blancas glacier, a giant icy crag slowly carving its way through the mountains. The view is particularly fantastic in autumn, when the trees are dressed in their red and gold fall colours, offering a great contrast to the deep blues of the glacier.

The view of Piedras Blancas glacier

From here, you’ll make your way across the valley and then begin your final ascent to the lagoon. This is by far the steepest and most difficult part of the trek, climbing over 300m in just over a mile. Be prepared for what can feel like endless switchbacks and plenty of high steps! Rest assured however, if that’s not your thing, there are still several opportunities for amazing Fitz Roy views from the valley. My guide pointed out a really lovely spot along the river where they often stop for lunch to enjoy the views instead of making the final push. 

Otherwise, it’s onwards and upwards to Laguna de Los Tres itself. The photos don’t lie: it really is that unearthly turquoise colour. The group I was with enjoyed a little cryotherapy soaking our swollen feet in the water. Never one to be outdone, I went for a swim.There are few things I enjoy more than a long hike that finishes with a dip, no matter how cold. And it was cold! But for me, there is no surer or quicker way to feel truly alive than with that bracing dunk. You have to actively focus on your breathing, and it forces you to be fully embodied and present wherever you are – a glacial baptism and a fresh start. 

Sydney and friends at Laguna de Los Tres

After drying off, we picnicked under the wide view of FitzRoy, before exploring a ‘secret’ view a little further along the shore. We then headed back along the main trail all the way to El Chaltén, but for those wanting a slightly harder experience there’s also the option of pushing a little further – with a guide – to the Cerro Madsen ridge. 

Most hikers will spend between 7-9 hours on the trail doing the Laguna de Los Tres hike. However, if you’re doing this at the height of the Patagonian summer with its 18 hours of daylight, some people might consider this a half day hike!

Cerro Torre

The second most popular day hike from El Chaltén is to Cerro Torre. It’s an 18km walk so we usually suggest this as a 7–8 hour trail, but you could easily do it quicker than that if you are a fast hiker. Unlike Laguna de Los Tres, you really can do this as a straight out and back from town.

Cerros Torres peak, reflected in water
Reflections of Cerro Torre

The trail begins its climb almost immediately, but don’t be daunted as it does level out soon after that. Once you get to the first viewpoint, the trail meanders upwards in a pretty gentle manner. 

That first viewpoint is called Mirador Torre and offers the glimpse of Cerro Torre, a magnificent thin granite pinnacle pointing into the sky. For the rest of the hike, its peak is your constant companion, which makes it especially fun in terms of anticipation and momentum as you see it ever getting closer. Cerro Torre has an important place in the history of South American mountaineering, making its sheer rock faces even more dizzying to contemplate as you walk towards it. 

The hike ends at Laguna Torre, another glacial lake, though you’ll find the water here is grey rather than the bright neon of Laguna de Los Tres. That said, the waters here often have small icebergs in them calved from the glacier. They bob and float towards the beach where hikers sit and eat their lunches. 

Icebergs on the glacial lake at Cerro Torre

As Cerro Torre is a slightly shorter walk, that means there’s a bit more time to explore the many extra little trails around the lagoon. Or, if you’re like me, you can find a good basking spot and enjoy a little nap in the sunshine.

It’s worth noting that if you’re open to camping, you can combine Laguna de Los Tres and Cerro Torre into an overnight trip, staying at the Poincenot campsite, which has pre-erected tents with sleeping bags and hot meals by a beautiful river. For photographers, this is especially worth it, as it lets you stay longer up at Laguna de Los Tres at the end of the first day with only an hour-long hike down to the campsite. For me, just waking early and brushing my teeth by the river was just as much a highlight. 

Loma del Pliegue Tumbado

Laguna de Los Tres and Cerro Torre get you right up close to the heart of the mountains, but if you ask a local guide in El Chaltén what their favourite day hike is, they’ll almost certainly say it’s Loma del Pliegue Tumbado. 

Mountain vista at Loma del Pliegue Tumbado

When I did it myself, I totally understood why: this walk is all about the panoramas. Whereas Laguna de Los Tres and Laguna Cerro Torre take you right to the base of these famous peaks, Loma del Pliegue gives you the zoomed out perspective on the entire range. If you can, try to save this one for a clear day; it’s so much fun to be able to spot the places you hiked to on previous excursions. 

The hike itself is like a ramp, with a long and steady ascent for about 18km. No part of it is as steep as the final ascent of Laguna de Los Tres, but its climb is consistent, with the last leg walking over an exposed scree field. Be sure to pack sunscreen and your ankle boots!

There are two summits with viewpoints. The guides told me that nearly everyone stops at the first one, which has a great view. However, if you’re looking for a challenge and an even better view, make the final push up a series of short and steep switchbacks. I had to see it for myself, but to be candid, the views are comparable and your quads will thank you, so don’t worry if this isn’t your thing. 

Lago del Desierto & Huemul Hanging Glacier

I hope it’s clear by now that Los Glaciares is a day hiker’s dream. However, these long hikes do take their toll, so sometimes it’s nice to have a shorter day and mix things up a bit. If your schedule allows, Lago del Desierto is my very favorite spot for a short hike in the area – as bang for your buck as it gets! 

Lago del Desierto is a lake about a 90 minute drive on a gravel road from El Chaltén. It’s a great multi-sport destination, but I recommend getting a kayak to paddle on the lake. The kayaking is sit-on top and done in doubles – no experience is needed. It’s a very relaxing adventure, complete with a stop in a secret cove, where the guide unpacks hot drinks and alfajores – the ultimate Argentine staple in a land of cakes and sweet treats.

Kayaking on Lago del Desierto

Before or after your kayaking excursion, you must do the hour’s hike to the Huemul hanging glacier. It’s a picture postcard place, and we happened to luck out with clear skies that meant we could see allllll the way to Fitz Roy. More importantly for me though: hanging glaciers mean glacial lagoons, so there was another of those unearthly blue lakes waiting for happy hikers to splash about in. I’d already taken one dip that day when I was kayaking, but who could resist the opportunity of another mountain swim? For such an easy hike, Huemul definitely offers a beautiful reward at the end.

View over hiker's feet of Huemul Lagoon near El Chalten in Argentina
Relaxing after the hike up to Huemul Lagoon

As with the Poincenot campsite that links Laguna de Los Tres and Cerro Torre, there’s the option to overnight at Lago del Desierto if you want to make your day go further. I opted to stay at the small hosteria right by the trailhead, so I could do the hanging glacier hike again at sunrise, before getting a private transfer back to El Chaltén.

Huemules Reserve & Puesto Cagliero

Like Torres del Paine in Chile, the secret of Los Glaciares is definitively out, and these iconic trails have been getting more and more popular in recent years. If you are seeking maximum solitude with minimum distance, I loved the 11km roundtrip walk through the Huemules Reserve to the hut at Puesto Cagliero. It sits at the back of the valley on a tiny lagoon, overlooked by a hanging glacier. In cool weather (aka all the time in Patagonia!), the staff keep a wood fire burning to relax next to while they cook you a crepe slathered with dulce de leche. It’s a pocket-sized slice of beauty and I saw just half a dozen people the entire time I was out there. 

The hut at Puesto Cagliero

The Huemules Reserve itself is a private conservation site separate from Los Glaciares National Park, with its own extensive trail system. You can easily pair the hike to the hut with other stunning detours: Lagunas Azul and Verde are the most popular sites in the reserve and are very user-friendly for all types of hiker. Or if you are looking for something more strenuous, head up Loma del Diablo for aerial views of the entire valley.

If you need a rest day or are short on time, there are some great short walks that can be done from town as well. From the El Chalten Vistors’ Center, the starting point for Loma del Pliegue, you can also head up to Mirador Condores, a 3km trail with great views of the valley. It’s named for its proximity to the condor nests so be sure to take binoculars. 

Mirador Condores & Chorillo de Salto

If you need a rest day or are short on time, there are some great short walks that can be done from town as well. From the El Chalten Vistors’ Center, the starting point for Loma del Pliegue, you can also head up to Mirador Condores, a 3km trail with great views of the valley. It’s named for its proximity to the condor nests so be sure to take binoculars. 

The Chorillo de Salto waterfall is also a good short walk to stretch the legs, perhaps after you’ve just transferred from El Calafate and the flight from Buenos Aires. The walk is flat along a dirt road, and ends at a lenga forest with a 20m waterfall bursting down a cliff. 

There are plenty of ways to combine some or all of these hikes to get the most out of your time in El Chaltén, and we’d love to help find just the right mix for you. Just remember to pack your bathing suit as well as your hiking boots!

If you want to hit the hiking trail in El Chaltén, Swoop Patagonia are the experts to talk to. Get in touch today and let us help you plan your Los Glaciares adventure.

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Sydney Miller

Swoop Patagonia Specialist

Sydney was still in Patagonia when she began plotting her return. Since her first visit to Torres del Paine in 2013, she’s trekked all over the globe but always finds her way back to this otherworldly place that started it all. Few things make her happier than swimming in a Patagonian glacial lake after a long hike – and encouraging others to do the same!